If winter isn’t here, where is it?

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Early February snowfall at the Colosseum.

If I owned a laptop I might be writing this on the weather deck. As I punch away at the keyboard constricting me to the weather office I can see the bright sunshine out of the corner of my eye lighting up the deck area pushing temps to the mid 40s. This has been the story of our “winter” of 2011-2012. I call it a knock off version of a Wisconsin winter, a cheap imitation. Kind of like the 1W/driver that sits in my golf bag. It looks $300 like a Nike SQ Driver, it feels like a $300 Nike SQ Driver, but when it strikes a golf ball you quickly realize this $30 club has no Swoosh and no sweet spot.

So if Old Man Winter punched up the wrong address into his GPS on the way to North America, where did he end up when that soothing voice said “arriving at destination”?

How about Europe.

Since late January the continent has seen one of the worst winters in decades. A few nights ago I showed video of snow in Rome. While it looked to be only a slushy inch or three, it was enough for schools and monuments to close. Any tourists waiting to see the Colosseum would have to wait for the snow and ice to melt. Probably a good call, I don’t think the original design called for too many hand railings. I think building codes were a little more relaxed back then. The Roman snowfall, while small, was the biggest they’ve seen in 26 years.

In other parts of Europe the snow and cold have been more than an inconvenience, it’s been dangerous. Tens of thousands of Romanians have been stranded or cut off by snow covered roads. Some people even had to dig tunnels to get into their homes. The Russian city of Toko saw the temp plummet to -63° one day. That’s colder than any temp ever seen in Wisconsin. Meanwhile the Danube River, a floating highway for goods and commerce remains iced up for hundreds of miles. Ships carrying raw materials, food, and coal cannot reach their destination.

So why has Europe gotten a visit from winter while we’re still in late fall / early spring mode? One of the main reasons is the Arctic Oscillation. It finally reached a negative phase from the middle of January up to a few days ago. When the AO is negative the Northern Hemisphere tends to have harsher winters. But around here our winter is influenced by other global patterns including the North Atlantic Oscillation as well as the AO. The NAO (not to be confused with AO… I know your head is probably spinning right now) has been in a positive phase this winter which favors mild temps around here but has little influence over Eastern Europe where the worst winter weather exists. If the NAO stays positive and the AO returns to positive, which it may in the coming weeks, our chance to see a late winter melts away.

For weather geeks, check out a graph of Arctic Oscillation conditions by CLICKING HERE. For the North Atlantic Oscillation CLICK HERE. For a Youtube clip of  a penguin causing another penguin to do a faceplant, CLICK HERE.